Crowd Pleaser – Performance Aluminum Radiator R&D, Part 1 – Stock Review and Design Plans

Picture this: You’ve just bought tickets to one of your all-time favorite artists. They’ve done nothing but top the charts for decades, and now it’s your chance to see them live. You’ve queued all day for the front row spots, but the time has finally come. The lights dim, and the music starts. It’s the opener. A smaller, much less known act that’s much more popular overseas. They steal the show. You find yourself with their songs stuck in your head and following them closer than the main act you adore. 

What does this have to do with trucks? Well, think of the show as truck shopping. The Big headliner is the F-150, and the opener is the Tacoma. Toyota might not have been in the pickup truck game quite as long as Ford or other brands, but their trucks have become a crowd favorite around the world, and for a good reason. They’re tough as nails, and the mid-sized options give them much more flexibility than larger trucks. The Tacoma is a capable truck, but it still could use some help in the cooling department. 

Before we can dive into our plans to improve on the Tacoma’s cooling system, we need to examine the OEM radiator and identify its strengths and weaknesses. For the best view of the stock radiator, we pulled it from our donor vehicle. 

Fresh out of the truck, we noted that Toyota stuck with tradition for the radiator’s construction. It’s a lightweight tube-and-fin core with plastic end tanks crimped to the core. The core measures in at 24 mm thick for the 2005-2015 models, with an additional 4mm for the 2016+ generation. This method of radiator construction is advantageous for Toyota since, for most drivers, it will stand up to the abuse of daily driving while keeping either your I4 or V6 cool. Not to mention that it’s cheap. Building trucks is an expensive business, so every cent saved on manufacturing means less that you, the buyer, has to pay.

Under closer examination of the factory radiator, we noticed that Toyota utilized louvered fins, which pack more cooling power into a thinner core. In addition, the serrated fins force the fresh air to flow through the core diagonally, allowing more time for heat transfer. This fin design, in essence, expands the effective thickness of the radiator core. 

These radiators also play double duty and are responsible for keeping the transmission fluid temperatures in check with an integrated end-tank cooler.

The trouble, though, is that plastic degrades over time and becomes prone to cracking and leaking. Off-roaders also increase the risk of damaging their Tacoma radiators. Rogue trail debris or chassis flex while traversing tricky rock patches pose a threat to keeping your truck cool. 

The first step in improving the Tacoma’s radiator is stepping up the durability. We plan to ditch the plastic and switch to an all-aluminum construction. Our proposed pair of metal end tanks will not only look much tougher under the hood, but they’ll add rigidity to the radiator, making it much less susceptible to cracking and leaking.

The only major update that Toyota made to the radiator between 2005 and now was the mounting. The slots are all in the same location, but some years used a smaller mounting peg on the radiator support. Our design will accommodate both mounting styles. 

The next step is adding cooling power. True, the factory design incorporated a louvered fin design to improve heat transfer, but the slim core still has its limitations. So, we plan to push out the core thickness to 42mm, almost doubling the width of the radiator. This added core thickness allows for improved heat transfer and greater coolant capacity. We’ll update the core’s fin design to cram in even more fins while carrying over the louvered design. 

The Tacoma is a rapidly rising star in the truck world. It’s just as at home in the desert as it is in a suburban driveway. The versatility of this mid-sized truck means that the factory radiator might not keep up in some situations. We want to remedy that situation. Our plans look good on paper, but we need to make sure they hold up in the physical world. Stay tuned to check out our prototype coming up in the next post. 

Thanks for Reading!

-Nick

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *